Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In 2020, while wildfires swept through portions of Sonoma County, close to many homes, Sheriff Essick met with the County Board of Supervisors, fire officials, and members of the public in a streamed town hall meeting. Essick provided updates on an evacuation strategy and fielded questions from the public. When asked whether evacuated residents might be permitted to reenter mandatory evacuation zones to feed pets and animals left behind, Sheriff Essick refused to grant such permission, citing safety concerns. Sheriff Essick’s subsequent communications led to a harassment complaint. An independent investigator, Oppenheimer, conducted an inquiry and prepared a written report. A newspaper requested that the county release the complaint, the report, and various related documents) California Public Records Act (CPRA), Gov. Code 6250). The trial court denied Essick's request for a preliminary injunction barring the report's release. The court of appeal affirmed. The court rejected arguments that the Oppenheimer Report should be classified as confidential under CPRA exemptions for “peace officers” “personnel records,” or reports or findings relating to a complaint by a member of the public against a peace officer The county is not estopped from releasing the Oppenheimer Report nor bound to keep the results of the investigation confidential. Nothing in the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights explicitly grants or mentions confidentiality from CPRA requests, Sonoma County is not Essick's “employing agency.” View "Essick v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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BPI owned property in unincorporated Humboldt County, with eight rental units, a post office, and its own water system. LaPaille served as CEO and CFO of BPI. From 2009-2016, Laurance and Elsie (plaintiffs) performed work for BPI, managing the water system and serving rent notices. BPI terminated their work when it suspected Laurance was not performing his maintenance jobs, was stealing supplies, and was using BPI’s water rights for a private venture. Plaintiffs were not paid for any work they performed for BPI apart from receiving free rent.Plaintiffs filed complaints, seeking regular and overtime wages, liquidated damages, and waiting time penalties. The Labor Commissioner agreed and found LaPaille personally liable. The superior court concluded plaintiffs were BPI employees, entitled to minimum wages a certain number of hours per week, with interest on those amounts. It awarded statutory damages for BPI’s failure to provide a wage statement, waiting time damages, and travel expense reimbursements. The court concluded BPI acted in good faith, with reasonable grounds to believe it was not violating the Labor Code, and declined to award liquidated damages and penalties. It concluded LaPaille was not personally liable.The court of appeal reversed in part. The trial court miscalculated the statute of limitations, erred in declining to impose personal liability on LaPaille, and improperly calculated waiting time penalties. View "Seviour-Iloff v. LaPaille" on Justia Law

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The University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP) is a defined benefit plan. In 1999, the University’s President addressed the recruitment and retention impacts of federal tax law: for employees hired after a certain date, a “maximum compensation amount that can be used for retirement calculations”—then, $160,000—such that employees earning more than the maximum “cannot receive benefits based on the full compensation that UCRP would otherwise use for benefit calculations.” The President recommended that the University take advantage of recent amendments to the Internal Revenue Code making it possible for public institutions to “mitigate” the limitations. The Regents adopted the 1999 Resolution, establishing restoration plans. The President’s Office drafted a Plan amendment, Appendix E, to implement the Resolution. Appendix E provided for Regents’ unlimited right to amend or terminate Appendix E,. In 2007, following a moratorium, the IRS approved Appendix E. The University did not implement Appendix E.Retired employees sued on behalf of themselves and similarly situated Plan members who retired between January 1, 2000, and March 29, 2012, alleging impairment of contract, promissory estoppel, equitable estoppel, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and breach of the covenant of good faith. The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of those claims. The 1999 Resolution expressly contemplated further review and action before any employee benefit was provided, and did not clearly evince an intent to create contractual rights. View "Broome v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA; Gov. Code 3500) requires public agencies to meet and confer (bargain) in good faith with recognized employee organizations regarding changes to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The Associations filed unfair practice complaints alleging the County violated the MMBA when its board of supervisors placed Measure P on the November 2020 ballot. The measure, which the voters ultimately approved, amends the Sonoma County Code to enhance the investigative and oversight authority of the County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) over the Sonoma County Sheriff-Coroner's office.The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), which has jurisdiction over MMBA claims, agreed, finding that, before placing the measure on the ballot, the County was required to bargain with the Associations. The court of appeal reversed in part and remanded. PERB failed to consider whether the decision to place certain Measure P provisions on the ballot significantly and adversely affected the working conditions of the Associations’ members and exceeded its authority by issuing a remedial order declaring voter-approved Measure P provisions void and unenforceable. View "County of Sonoma v. Public Employment Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Petitioners are truck drivers previously employed by real party in interest Haralambos Beverage Co. (Haralambos). Petitioners' filed a putative wage and hour class action alleging, among other things, that Haralambos failed to provide meal and rest breaks in violation of Labor Code sections 226.7 and 512 and the Industrial Welfare Commission’s Wage Order No. 9-2001. Nearly two years later, on December 28, 2018, the FMCSA issued an order concluding that California’s meal and rest break rules are laws “‘on commercial motor vehicle safety,’” are preempted pursuant to title 49 United States Code section 31141 (section 31141).   Thereafter, Haralambos filed a motion to strike the class allegations on federal preemption grounds, which the parties agreed was a request to strike petitioners’ third and fourth causes of action for failure to provide meal and rest breaks. On August 18, 2021, the superior court granted the motion and struck the two causes of action.   The Second Appellate District granted Petitioners’ petition for writ of mandate. The court held that in light of the FMCSA’s authority to determine and communicate what it is preempting, its use of language suggesting prospective application only, and its failure to expressly extend its decision to pending claims, the court concluded the Preemption Decision does not apply to bar claims arising from conduct that occurred prior to the decision, i.e., before December 28, 2018. View "Garcia v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a consolidated class action against his former employer, Pacific Bell Telephone Company ("Employer"). Plaintiff claimed Employer violated California law by failing to provide lawful meal and rest periods and failing to provide lawful itemized wage statements among other Labor Code violations. Plaintiff appealed four orders of the trial court: 1) an order denying class certification to five meal and rest period classes; (2) an order granting summary adjudication of Plaintiff's claim relating to wage statements; (3) an order striking Plaintiff's claim under section 226, subdivision (a)(6); and (4) an order granting summary adjudication of Plaintiff's claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 ("PAGA").Preliminarily, the Second Appellate District held that Plaintiff's third issue challenging the trial court's order striking his claim under section 226, subdivision (a)(6) was not appealable. Moving on to the merits of the remaining claims, the court held 1.) the trial court erred in refusing to certify the meal and rest period classes based on its conclusion that common issues do not predominate; 2.) the trial court properly denied Plaintiff's wage-statement claim; and 3.) the trial court properly dismissed plaintiff's PAGA claim. View "Meza v. Pacific Bell Telephone Co." on Justia Law

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After being terminated from a position with Sacramento County (the County), plaintiff-appellant Cynthia Vatalaro sued the County for unlawful retaliation under Labor Code section 1102.5. Vatalaro alleged that, in violation of this statute, the County retaliated against her after she reported that she was working below her service classification. The County moved for summary judgment, contending Vatalaro could not show that she had a reasonable belief, or any belief at all, that the information she disclosed evidenced a violation of any law. The County added that, regardless, Vatalaro’s claim still failed because the County had a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for terminating her. The trial court, agreeing with the County on both these points, granted summary judgment in the County’s favor. On appeal, Vatalaro alleges that the trial court was wrong on both these issues. The Court of Appeal affirmed, though on a ground somewhat different than those raised at the trial level: "the relevant standard is not whether the County demonstrated it had such a [non-discriminatory] reason; it is instead whether the County 'demonstrate[d] by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged action would have occurred for legitimate, independent reasons even if the employee had not engaged in activities protected by Section 1102.5.'" View "Vatalaro v. County of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, heirs of a nursing home resident who died after wandering off-site and getting hit by a car, filed a lawsuit against the nursing facility, its director, and its manager, alleging negligence, willful misconduct, elder abuse, and wrongful death. The facility demurred to the complaint on the ground that it is barred by the two-year statute of limitations. Plaintiffs argued that the managers and director’s felony convictions revived the statute of limitations under section 340.3. Plaintiffs claimed that because the facility was liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior, the statute of limitations was also revived as to the facility.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s ruling and held that the extended statute of limitations does not apply to the employer of the felon in an action based on the doctrine of respondeat superior. Further, the court held that Labor Code section 2802, which allows an employee to be indemnified by his or her employer, does not apply to third parties. The court reasoned that Plaintiffs’ reliance on the Victims’ Bill of Rights embodied in Article I, Section 28 of the California Constitution is misplaced. Under that section, victims have the right to seek restitution “from the persons convicted of the crimes causing the losses they suffer.”  Further, the court reasoned that Labor Code section 2802 allows an employee to be indemnified by his or her employer. It does “not provide access to the employer’s or its insurer’s pocketbook through a third-party suit against the employee.” View "Cardenas v. Horizon Senior Living" on Justia Law

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The San Diego City Attorney brought an enforcement action under the California Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code sections 17200, et seq. (UCL), on behalf of the People of California against Maplebear Inc. DBA Instacart (Instacart). In their complaint, the State alleged Instacart unlawfully misclassified its employees as independent contractors in order to deny workers employee protections, harming its alleged employees and the public at large through a loss of significant payroll tax revenue, and giving Instacart an unfair advantage against its competitors. In response to the complaint, Instacart brought a motion to compel arbitration of a portion of the City’s action based on its agreements with the individuals it hired (called "Shoppers"). The trial court denied the motion, concluding Instacart failed to meet its burden to show a valid agreement to arbitrate between it and the State. Instacart appealed, arguing that even though the State was not a party to its Shopper agreements, it was bound by its arbitration provision to the extent the State sought injunctive relief and restitution because these remedies were “primarily for the benefit of” the Shoppers. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and affirmed the trial court’s order. View "California v. Maplebear Inc." on Justia Law

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Vicki Hebert filed a putative class action against Barnes & Noble, Inc. (Barnes & Noble), alleging it willfully violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). According to Hebert, Barnes & Noble willfully violated the FCRA by providing job applicants with a disclosure that included extraneous language unrelated to the topic of consumer reports. The Act required employers like Barnes & Noble provide a job applicant like Herbert a standalone disclosure stating that the employer may obtain the applicant’s consumer report when making a hiring decision. Barnes & Noble moved for summary judgment, arguing that no reasonable jury could find its alleged FCRA violation was willful. The company asserted it included the extraneous information in its disclosure due to an inadvertent drafting error. The trial court agreed with Barnes & Noble, granted the company’s motion, and entered judgment in the company’s favor. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court, determining a reasonable jury could have found that Barnes & Noble acted willfully because it violated an unambiguous provision of the FCRA, at least one of the company’s employees was aware of the extraneous information in the disclosure before the disclosure was displayed to job applicants, the company may not have adequately trained its employees on FCRA compliance, and/or the company may not have had a monitoring system in place to ensure its disclosure complied with the FCRA. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Hebert v. Barnes & Noble, Inc." on Justia Law